Blindsides, bathing suits, luxury items, Russell’s bad game play, and Fabio’s pee pool all return to Survivor

The act of “blindsiding” someone has now become so commonplace on Survivor that it’s expected, and thus almost doesn’t work, because it’s not blind if everyone can expect it to happen. But tonight’s vote, when Matt Elrod was sent home from the Ometepe tribe instead of Phillip, definitely qualifies as a blindside. His mouth dropped open when Jeff Probst started reading the votes with his name on them, and he said, simply, “Damn, guys,” as he went off to Redemption Island to fight in the first duel against Francesca.

Matt sealed his fate at the challenge, which was held in the very same pool that made several appearances during Survivor Nicaragua–most memorably when eventual winner Fabio peed in it, and my guess is that it hasn’t exactly been drained since then. (For the occasion, producers gave the cast their bathing suits, so we no longer have to see Phillip in his droopy red briefs all the time.) After his tribe lost, Matt walked over to shake the winning tribe members’ hands: nice but dumb. I thought, “What is he doing?” and then Rob asked, “What is he doing?” Rob later called it “despicable,” apparently because playing an individual game so early only works if you are Rob.

But it was Matt’s similarity to Rob, bonding with Andrea, that really made Rob target him–because Rob saw himself and Amber in the couple. “I know how strong a pair can be in this game,” he said, adding, “I didn’t want to play Survivor like this, I didn’t. … He’s playing textbook, but he’s playing with me.” Rob’s arrogance seems less harmless than it used to, perhaps because there’s even more of it from Russell Hantz, but it’s still there.

Because Matt went home, Phillip didn’t. He acted like he was going during Tribal, however, and he pulled up his sleeves to show us tattoos on each arm (a gorilla, a lion, oh my!), and explained what each one meant. I thought he might pull down his pants down and say: pygmy python.

Twice during the episode, Phillip got all patriotic–the editors had some fun with the music–but ultimately I felt kind of sorry for him, because he clearly has an emotional connection to his work defending the country in whatever job he had, and maybe it screwed him up, or maybe he’s just bad at expressing himself, or maybe he’s delusional. None of those things make me feel like laughing at him in those moments.

Still, Phillip’s interplay with Rob is hilarious–or at least, the fires he sparks in Rob are hilarious. After pulling Rob aside to tell him “you own my vote,” Rob told us, “He is a piece of work. … I don’t know if he’s delusional.” He added, in the episode’s best line, “Let it be a lesson to you: government jobs, stressful.” Later, after their loss in the challenge, Rob pointed out that “Once again, we have to endure the pre-Tribal council before Tribal Council.” That was Phillip giving a rambling speech, during which he said at least one made-up word, “gallentryly” instead of gallantly. Oh, that dry mouth!

Speaking of mouths: Russell Hantz is in for a world of hurt. I’m actually hoping his tribe keeps winning, and he keeps getting more and more cocky, and then they finally lose and vote his ass off immediately. The editing suggests Russell’s two female alliance members are with him, but I’m not too sure, considering how skeptical everyone else is.

And how great is his nemesis, Ralph? Hilariously, Ralph found the hidden immunity idol by accident (“Hot doggie! I was picking up rocks,” he said, adding, “That was simple as wiping your hiney with toilet paper”) while subtle Russell hacked his way through bushes with a machete looking for it, acting nonchalant but giving himself away to everyone. Russell also subtly carried the tribe’s reward into camp so he could get the hidden immunity idol clue, and when confronted by Ralph, proved what a terrible social game he has is. I think Russell imagines that saying the same thing in confessional interviews constitutes a social game, but he interacts so terribly with everyone, it’s no wonder he’s reviled and will never, ever win. “I don’t need no stinking numbers. All I need is trust, loyalty. That’s how I play this game,” he told us, and then turned around and lied. And everyone knows it: Mike said, “The guy is the most untrustworthy character I’ve ever met in my life.”

The actual confrontation over the immunity idol clue was much more intense, as Russell got caught in his lie and didn’t know what to do, so he alternated between subtly admitting that he was lying and/or had the clue (“Calm down guys, because this is how the game is played”) and lying (insisting there wasn’t a clue). Russell didn’t grasp the implications of his behavior, and was his usual, broken-record self: “You just done that, to me, to Russell Hantz, and you know how to play this game?”

Ralph told us, “Russell he’s going to pay the price, because this is not his game, it’s my game.” I’d be horrified by that kind of nonsense except it’s great for Russell to have an opponent. Something tells me Ralph will have the last laugh.

The cold open followed Francesca as she got to Redemption Island and read its rules. She got a lantern, a flint, a daily ration of rice, and her luxury item (just like the old days!)–not Ponderosa, but kind of a lot of stuff. She also learned that she’d throw her buff into the fire if she loses a duel. I first read that sentence as, “On the way out you will throw your butt into the fire, signifying your permanent departure from the game.” That’d be redemptive.

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Plus: an interview with the actor who played Verlox and the ogre.


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Companies that get deals on the show will be followed for this new spin-off.

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.